I’ve written weekly columns on and off since I was 17 (which is almost eight years, for those counting at home), and I’ve never received a response like the one my first two grammar pieces have received.
I’d be flattered if I thought it was because my writing is any good. Rather, I’m pretty sure it’s evidence of what I’ve suspected for years: There are far more closeted English nerds out there than people realize. Most of us blend in fairly well – until someone mentions the Oxford Comma, that is. Then the battle lines are drawn.
As I go through your letters and work on answers to your grammatical pet peeves (because, you know, there’s confidence, and then there’s “this is going to be printed and mailed to 100,000 people” confidence), I thought I’d share a few of my own. Some of these are from the Internet. Some of them pop up regularly as I go about my copy editing duties. All of them irk me.
Afterward, upward and toward – This rule can be a bit tricky, I’ll admit. These words all indicate directionality in time or space. The majority, save for “afterward,” can be used as both an adjective and a verb. In the adverbial form, though, they gain an “s” at the end: afterwards, upwards and towards (and onward, backwards, downwards, etc.). Since it’s football season now, let’s grab a pigskin for our example. In the adjectival form, “upward” modifies the noun: The quarterback threw the ball in an upward spiral. In the adverbial form, “upwards” will modify the verb: The punter kicked the ball upwards.
Spaces after periods – I realize this column won’t settle the debate, but, really, you only need to put one space after a period. It’s a typographic convention that fell out of favor withU.S. publishers in the 1940s, and which has been made utterly obsolete by digital word processing. Additionally, HTML, the language the majority of the Internet is coded in, will automatically remove a double space, so you don’t be seeing it online. I know that people were taught to double-space in typing class and for some it has become a venerated tradition. That’s fine. Word’s “Find and Replace” tool fixes the problem in a snap.
More than and over – I suppose I should start this off by saying that, technically, according to people who didn’t ask me, “more than” and “over” are perfectly interchangeable. But they shouldn’t be, darn it. “More than” indicates an amount, whereas “over” indicates direction or positioning. You wouldn’t say, “The cow jumped more than the moon,” now would you? Simon and Garfunkel wouldn’t have been nearly as popular with “Bridge More Than Troubled Water.” If you are over something, you are on a higher elevation. If you have more than something, you have a greater quantity. Period.